REI Flexlite Air Chair Review

REI Flexlite Air Chair Review

The REI Flexlite Air Chair is a portable camping chair that is lightweight and compact enough to take backpacking. Weighing 16.2 oz (459 g), it’s definitely a luxury item, but one that is easy to rationalize if you want to hang out around the campfire, read outdoors, or sit on top of a rocky mountain peak to admire the view (which is what I’m doing above). I don’t think it’s as good a product as the slightly heavier Helinox Chair Zero (see our full review) but it is a very close second and less expensive.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 16.2 oz / 459 g
  • Material: Aluminum, Ripstop nylon
  • Seat Height: 11 inches
  • Unfolded dimensions: 19 x 22 x 22 inches
  • Weight Capacity: 250 lbs
  • Packed Dimensions: 16″ x 5″
  • Price: $99.95

The REI Flexlight Air Chair is a lightweight portable backpacking chair that weighs 16.2 oz and packs up surprisingly small. Before I bought it, I convinced myself that I’d rather sit on a rock or a fallen tree when cooking dinner on backpacking trips or bring a small foam pad to sit on instead. While that does work, it’s really not as satisfying or relaxing as having a chair to sit on for stargazing, hanging out in camp with friends, or just watching the clouds float by.

The REI Flexlite Air Chair is best used on solid surfaces like rock to it doesn’t sink into the ground.
The REI Flexlite Air Chair is best used on solid surfaces like rock so it doesn’t sink into the ground.

The Flexlite Air Chair includes a storage sack, a single collapsible shock-corded aluminum pole like a tent, and a sling-like seat. It’s dead simple to set up or pack away. The entire package is about the size of a 1L Smartwater bottle and it can easily fit horizontally or vertically in most multi-day backpacks.

When broken down, the chair pole can be rolled up in the seat for easy transport
When broken down, the chair pole can be rolled up in the seat for easy transport.

The chair has sling-style seat with four reinforced corners that fit over the ends of the poles when attaching it to the frame, making it dead simple to assemble manually without any tools. Dimensionally, the Flexlite Air is chair is 19 inches wide, 22 inches high in the rear, and has a depth of 22 inches measured from the front of the seat to the farthest most point of the backrest. But the fabric of the seat doesn’t have a lot of stretch in it though so you might, depending on the size of your butt, feel a bit of your squeeze when you sit on it.  I know I do, but it’s not uncomfortable.

The legs also have a tendency to sink into sand or soft earth so it’s best if the chair is placed on a flat rock or the solid rock dust found on many campsites. This is a nearly universal problem with chairs of this type, but it’s exacerbated by the fact that the plastic tips at the ends of the Flex Air lite are smaller than on most other chairs.

The Flexlite Air has 1 multi-hub shock-corded pole so you can’t lose any sections.
The Flexlite Air has 1 multi-hub shock-corded pole so you can’t lose any sections.

One solution is to cut holes in practice golf balls (looks like a wiffle ball) and fit them over the leg-ends. We also reviewed a product recently called Chair Buddies that clip over the leg-ends and help prevent sinking quite effectively.

Unfortunately, REI does not offer any add-on products to keep the Flexlite Air chair from sinking like the Helinox Chair Zero Groundsheet. That does cost extra, but at least it works. So does setting the chair on a piece of cardboard from what I understand, although it’s less practical to carry on a backpacking trip.

The Flexlite Air, like most backpacking chairs sinks in sand or loose soil
The Flexlite Air, like most backpacking chairs, sinks in sand or loose soil. (I’m wearing a bug net).

The Flexlite Air Chair has a seat height of 11″ which can be difficult to stand up from if you’re not limber. However, the Helinox Chair Zero has a 9″ chair height which is even lower. Despite this difference, I feel that the Chair Zero is more stable and has less play in its pole structure than the Flexlite Air. Because it’s lower to the ground, it’s also harder to tip over, especially on uneven or rocky ground.

Recommendation

The REI Flexlite Air Chair and the Helinox Chair Zero are astonishingly similar in design and assembly. While I’ve accentuated their differences in this review, they’re much more subtle than meets the eye unless you used both products as extensively as I have. While I do prefer the Helinox Chair Zero over the REI Flexlite Air Chair, the latter is perfectly suitable for trail use as long as you understand its limitations and the limitations of ultralight backpacking chairs in general. Put another way, my companions and I still carry both chairs on our backpacking trips and take them to the swimming hole to sit by the water on hot days. For all functional purposes, they’re interchangeable, which I can’t say about all of the ultralight backpacking chairs from other manufacturers that are available today.

REI Flexlite Air Trail Chair

Weight
Packed Size
Durability
Stability
Weight Capacity

Ultralight Camping Chair

The REI Flexlite Air Chair is a portable camping chair that is lightweight and compact enough to take backpacking. It packs up small, is easy to assemble, and makes it fun to sit around camp at night.

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Disclosure: The author owns this product.

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13 comments

  1. Still hard for me to justify the 1lb of extra weight just for a chair. Maybe I will get their one day because you look really happy in your chair in the first picture.

  2. Nice review Philip. Another difference I noticed is that the front of the REI Flexlite seat cuts into my legs. For that reason I sent it back and kept the Heliinox Chair Zero which is much money re comfortable.

  3. nice review still $100 for that cute chair?

  4. The Helinox base sold separately fits on the Rei Flexlite . I just used it in the Eastern Sierras. No sinking! Just roll it up with fabric part of chair for storage or travel.

  5. I bought 2 of these Flex-Lite chairs for “lightweight car camping”. They are OK in the sense of better than no chair.

    NOW, let’s see how long they last. Usually REI label gear and clothing holds up well.

  6. The REI Flexlite Chair is lightweight & comfortable. Caveat! This chair is useful only if you sat it up on slab rock or very hard dry earth. I purchased it for a 44 mile backpacking trek over the Arrigetch Peaks in the Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve. Each time I used the chair, my weight caused the legs to sink into the soft earth or wet soil and what was more discombobulating is the sinking of the four legs were not all evenly sunk, resulting in the chair always being un-leveled. This chair has to have hard dry earth or slab rock to be of much use.

  7. I purchased this chair 3 years ago and it’s the luxury item that I carry on every outing. I also purchased the Chair Buddies after reading Philip’s review and they work great.

  8. Love the REI flexlite. It performed well on its maiden voyage in the canyons of the Escalante, in Utah. The feet did sink into the sand, but it wasn’t a problem. I was comfortable and my butt was off the ground. At 135 pounds, I didn’t test its weight limit, but it is a little squirrelly. I’m old and can’t sit on the ground anymore, nor can i carry a lot of weight. It took a year to cut a pound of other stuff from my pack to make room for the chair. Worth it.

  9. I weigh nearly 250 lbs and this thing doesn’t look like it will hold my big butt up under any conditions. I wish I still had my old Walrus chair, even though it probably weighed 3 times as much. What are the dimensions of the area where the feet touch the ground? It looks unstable unless set on level concrete, not the kind of place I hike to

  10. Thanks for your review. I have both of these chairs, the REI Flexlite and the Helinox Zero. We jokingly call each of them “the $100 chair.” They are both light and comfy, and I’ve been happy to bring it along on a backpack. Works well in car camping too, useful if space is at a premium such as in a smaller vehicle.

    One design difference to note is that the main cross bar within the shock-corded poles runs front-to-back on the REI chair, and runs side-to-side on the Helinox. In my experience, the Helinox just felt slightly more stable; the REI chair had a little wiggle room from left to right as you sat in in. This said, it’s a minor difference, and your mileage may vary. I like both chairs.

    I see others have their 1lb chairs out now — saw a Big Agnes model on display at Ragged Mountain Equipment this week. It was tempting as our camping party was 3, and I had let my kids take the $100 chairs, while I suffered in the old beach chair as we sat around the fire. But, that is a lot to spend on a chair, so I’ll let it wait for another day.

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